Day 3: Intertwining Ourselves with Plants


At first it was simple. As we marched from the road through the desert, there was a small Sahara Mustard here, a small one over there, but really not many. With about one invasive plant per ten SCA volunteers, it wasn’t really much of a job. I was just letting my guard down, only to navigate around a creosote bush and BAM. Hundreds of Sahara Mustard plants, from no bigger than one inch high to plants that were as high as two feet. And so, so many. I quickly found myself constantly attempting to find the biggest possible Sahara Mustard.

Despite the heat that day, the sandy soil made picking them easy enough, but the sheer number was overwhelming at times. For every step, I would see at least three more, leading to a task that was essentially never-ending. Often the Sahara Mustard was also very good at intertwining itself with the roots of other native plants, so that not only were they stealing that plant’s water but it also made them tricky to detangle.

This gave an interesting insight into the job of a park ranger. Even with our group of thirty, for every plant we picked there seemed to be dozens more, making our efforts feel rather futile.

Not gonna lie, this did dampen my spirits significantly for a short period of time. However, I talked about it with a fellow SCA volunteer experiencing the same problem, and we realized this:

For every plant pulled we prevented at least five more from seeding and producing even more. This future mindset helped me become more optimistic about our efforts, realizing that it is important to see how actions impact not only the present, but also the future. Looking back, we made a decent dent in the Sahara Mustard’s grossly overgrown population, and this makes the contributions of future volunteers all the more important. In this sense, it is amazing how much conservation of our planet is a collaborative job, in which we need everyone to participate.

That afternoon was spent at another burn site, (different from Monday and Tuesday’s) taking off the protective cages and dry water tubes of plants which volunteers had planted three years ago. Unlike the first burn site which was started by lightning, this one was most likely started by human fire. Burnt Joshua trees still lie scattered about the slightly apocalyptic landscape.

Healthy landscape on left, burn site on right

It was fascinating to see the cycle come full circle, from the plants we started Monday and Tuesday, to these that had survived the difficult transition and were now beginning to revitalize the damaged land.

Not all survived, but most did, giving me hope for the future of these burn sites.